Inflammation has been a hot topic these days, and for a good reason. What you eat, drink, and supplement can impact inflammatory markers, while sleep, stress, and exercise also play a critical role. But exactly is inflammation, why should you be aware of it, and what can you do to reduce the risk of inflammatory-related chronic diseases? Before taking a deep dive into some strategies to reduce inflammation, let’s start by understanding the principles of inflammation and the impact it has on health.
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to signals of injury or infection and occurs when a physical factor triggers an immune reaction [ 1
1]. However, inflammation isn’t always a bad thing, as your body uses it to protect against infection, injury or disease.
There are two types of inflammation — acute and chronic. The former happens when you cut your knee, twist your ankle, or catch a cold, and goes away as you recover. Chronic inflammation occurs when the inflammatory response lingers and leaves your body in a constant state of stress.
You can measure inflammation through inflammatory markers, such as C-reactive protein (CRP), which is made in the liver. As inflammation increases, so does the production of CRP. A simple blood test can determine if you have elevated CRP levels; anything less than 10 mg/L is considered normal, whereas over 10 mg/L is considered high [ 2 3
2]. These elevated inflammatory markers can lead to an extended state of oxidation that can damage both healthy and injured tissue [
While inflammation is necessary for your body to protect itself, it can also be a symptom of many chronic illnesses. Here are some of the most common inflammatory diseases.
Research indicates that chronic inflammation can result in cell mutation, tumorigenesis, cellular proliferation, and metastasis [ 4 5 6 7 8
5]. Inflammation can exacerbate malignancy for certain cancers, specifically those of the colon, pancreatic, and liver [
It’s becoming more evident that heart disease and inflammation are strongly connected. Studies have found that high levels of cholesterol in the bloodstream can lead to excess LDL (bad cholesterol) and elevated CRP levels, which are associated with a threefold increased risk of heart attacks [ 9
Emerging evidence suggests that chronic inflammation could be a culprit in Alzheimer’s disease. One study showed that those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment have higher inflammation when compared with those without dementia [ 10
Studies have found that inflammation can contribute to type 2 diabetes by disrupting the pathways involved in glucose metabolism [ 11 12
11]. Research has also found that chronic inflammation can contribute to excess body fat and blood sugar dysfunction, both of which increase the risk for type 2 diabetes [
Chronic inflammation can be reversed with a variety of lifestyle, dietary, and supplement choices. Here are some science-backed ways for keeping a lid on inflammation.
Cut back on alcohol. Excessive drinking (>2 drinks/day) goes hand-in-hand with chronic inflammation. Studies have found that alcohol has detrimental effects throughout the entire body, and negatively affects organs, tissues, and gut/brain health [ 13 14 18
14]. Alcohol also increases your risk of liver, breast, pancreas, and colon cancers by converting into acetaldehyde (a carcinogenic compound) and increasing DNA mutation [
Learn more about how alcohol affects weight gain and inflammation with
Stay active. Studies show that moderate-intensity exercise curbs inflammatory activity by positively influencing levels of adrenaline, cortisol, and growth hormone, and diminishing the expression of toll-like receptors (TLRs) in immune cells [ 15
Reduce intake of processed foods. Diets rich in added sugar, processed foods, and red meat have been found to enhance inflammation and increase the risk of breast, prostate, and colorectal cancers [ 16 17 18
Maintain a healthy weight. Research has found that chronic inflammation can negatively affect leptin, a hormone that helps regulate food intake and energy use. As such, studies show that those who are obese tend to have higher levels of leptin and elevated CRP levels compared to others who maintain a healthy weight [ 19 26
19]. Moreover, other research has found that losing body fat can reduce inflammatory markers and lower the risk of chronic disease [
Get enough sleep. A chronic lack of shut-eye has been associated with increased inflammatory markers, like cytokines, interleukin-6, and CRP [ 20
20]. To improve overall health, aim to get between 7 to 9 hours of sleep each night.
If you struggle to fall (or stay) asleep,
here are some natural supplement optionsthat might help.
Manage chronic stress levels. Research shows that stress cn cause inflammation and lead to a number of chronic conditions (like cardiovascular disease, IBD, obesity, and rheumatoid arthritis) [ 35
35]. To help manage chronic stress levels, try meditating, going for a walk, journaling, or talking with a friend.
What you put on your fork goes a long way in lowering the risk of chronic disease. Here are some of the best foods to reduce inflammation.
Foods rich in omega-3. Researchers have found that omega-3 fatty acids fight inflammation, and assist with cholesterol control [ 21
21]. Since our bodies can’t produce omega-3’s we must rely on dietary sources (such as salmon, trout, tuna, and sardines) and/or supplements to meet our needs.
Berries. Berries contain antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory effects and may reduce your risk of certain chronic diseases [ 22 23
22]. One study discovered that people who ate strawberries each day experienced lower levels of inflammatory markers associated with heart disease when compared to those who didn’t eat strawberries [
High fiber foods. Fiber feeds the good bacteria in your gut and consuming a high-fiber diet may lower inflammation [ 27 27
27]. Studies have found that people who eat a high-fiber diet (>5 g/fiber/serving) have 25 - 54% lower CRP levels compared to those who consume less fiber [
Nuts. Research shows that walnuts and almonds have a positive effect on inflammatory markers and may reduce the risk of heart disease [ 28
Leafy greens. If you’re looking to see a decrease in CRP levels, then try adding an extra serving of spinach to your morning smoothie. Studies have found that those who ate a diet rich in dark green leafy vegetables experienced reduced inflammatory markers over time [ 29
Some supplements have also been shown to lower inflammation:
Turmeric. This sunflower-yellow spice has long been praised for its many anti-inflammatory benefits. Research shows that curcumin (the main ingredient in turmeric) may be beneficial for decreasing inflammation associated with conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, IBD, arthritis, and other autoimmune diseases [ 30
Ginger. Ginger consumption has been found to have anti-inflammatory benefits, as it can reduce oxidative stress and inhibit inflammatory responses in the brain [ 31
Vitamin D. This essential vitamin plays a big role in immune health, but it also may positively impact inflammatory markers. Low vitamin D levels have been associated with higher levels of inflammation (particularly when it comes to COVID-19 and its severity) [ 32
Garlic. One study found that when participants had over 3 g of garlic extract/day, they experienced notable improvements on certain inflammatory markers; however, this study noted that even 2 g of garlic/day (one clove) can be beneficial for inflammation [ 33
Vitamin C. Well-known for its immune support, this antioxidant-vitamin may help reduce inflammation by neutralizing free radicals that cause oxidative damage to cells [ 34
Chronic inflammation plays a role in obesity, heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disease, and arthritis, and what you eat, drink, and supplement can have a major impact on inflammatory markers. Lifestyle adjustments such as consuming a diet rich in whole foods, staying active, limiting alcohol intake, getting enough sleep, and adding anti-inflammatory supplements can help tame inflammation, minimize disease risk, and help you feel your best for many years to come.
Disclaimer: The text, images, videos, and other media on this page are provided for informational purposes only and are not intended to treat, diagnose or replace personalized medical care.
Inflammation is the body’s natural response to signals of injury or infection and occurs when a physical factor triggers an immune reaction [ 1
C-reactive protein (CRP) is an inflammatory marker that can be used to determine inflammation in the body. CRP levels greater than 1.0 mg/L usually suggest inflammation, whereas levels greater than 3 mg/L indicate a higher risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and various other conditions [ 2
Chronic inflammation can contribute to excess body fat and blood sugar dysfunction, both of which increase the risk for type 2 diabetes [ 12
Chronic inflammation can be reversed with a variety of lifestyle, dietary, and supplement choices.
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